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Md. Ranks Near Bottom For Charter School Laws

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FREDERICK, Md. (AP) — Maryland’s charter school laws are among the worst in the nation, according to two studies released this year.

The Washington-based Center for Education Reform and National Alliance for Public Charter Schools evaluated the content and implementation of charter school laws in 42 states and the District of Columbia.

In January, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools named Maryland last out of 43 in its own ranking of charter school laws. The state dropped from 42 to 43 in the National Alliance ranking. The 2014 Center for Education Reform scorecard released March 17 showed that Maryland scored 39th — two places lower than in 2013.

Three public charter schools are now open in Frederick County: Carroll Creek Montessori, Monocacy Valley Montessori and Frederick Classical. Officials at the Montessori schools did not respond to a request for comment on the ratings.

Tom Neumark, president of Frederick Classical Charter School, said he is disappointed but not surprised that Maryland continues to worsen for charter schools.

“Charter schools are supposed to be independent, and that’s basically what Maryland law guarantees you don’t have,” he said.

The studies’ criteria for grading the laws included whether the state allows entities other than traditional school boards to independently create and manage charter schools, whether independent authorization actually occurs, how many new charter schools are allowed to open, how separation from existing state and local operational rules is codified in law, and various measures of fiscal equity.

States also earned or lost points for accountability and putting the law into practice, Center for Education Reform methodology said. Points were deducted if the law is not followed or charter schools are not being approved for arbitrary reasons not set in law.

Good charter school laws ensure freedom and funding, Neumark said, but Maryland’s do neither. Frederick County charter school teachers are employees of the local school system and are bound by union-negotiated contracts, rather than being employed directly by the charter school.

Giving the school system hiring, firing, legal and budgeting power over a charter school is unusual, Neumark said. Frederick Classical may next year gain more freedom to spend money as it sees fit, he said, instead of going through the school system’s long procurement process.

The lack of independent authorizers is one of the biggest problems because local school systems — currently the only bodies able to green-light charters — are “not interested in approving their competition,” Neumark said.

Frederick County Board of Education President Joy Schaefer is comfortable with the ability to work closely with those schools on a local level, she said. The relationship between charters and the school system is a work in progress, she added.

“We were the first in the state to have a charter school, so we’re always looking to improve our model,” she said. “We’re very lucky that we have charter schools with boards and leadership that is very collaborative.”

Schaefer declined to discuss the financial aspect because Frederick Classical is appealing the school board’s charter school funding formula.

Delegate Galen Clagett, D-Frederick, believes the law creates a suitable climate for running charter schools. School systems should be able to dictate much of what charter schools do because they are held accountable by public money, he said.

“I think they’re doing OK,” he said. “We can’t have people popping these things up anywhere. … You can’t make the charter school a private school, it’s a different animal.”

Neumark hopes the state legislature will overhaul the code governing charter schools as soon as possible.

“Maryland’s law is so out of the ordinary it’s not even funny,” he said. It’s “a pretend charter school law. It’s a charter school law in name only.”

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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